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The Wade Phillips 3-4 defense

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While we wait for some kind of official announcement out of Valley Ranch about Wade Phillips, I thought I'd re-post something that I wrote last month. On Jan 16th, I posted an article that was a film review of the Chargers/Patriots playoff game. At the time, I was interested in seeing what the differences were between our 3-4 defense and the versions run by the Chargers and the Patriots. This was in anticipation of Parcells returning and what kind of adjustments he could make to get our 3-4 defense into the elite.

It turned out that the Patriots defense had a very similar philosophy to the Cowboys defense - no surprise considering the Parcells/Belichick connection - and that philosophy was basically that we'll whip you in one-on-one battles. Both teams rarely moved pre-snap, they didn't do a lot of faking, the offenses knew where the opposing players would be lined up. But if you had the talent to execute it, it was like the old Green Bay sweep on offense, everybody knew what you were going to do, but they still couldn't stop it. The Patriots have done a very good job with that scheme over the past decade. The Cowboys under Parcells had issues with making it work. Maybe they just needed a little more time and a few more players.

But the San Diego version of the 3-4 was very different. I'll re-post that part now.

San Diego is a much different 3-4 team. They believe in a lot of movement and fakes to confuse the offense. Before the snap of the ball, they have linebackers and defensive backs moving all over the place. They move up to the line of scrimmage to fake a blitz, they move the OLB's from one side to the other, and they generally look like they are confused - but they are carefully crafting their fakes. They do blitz more than the average defense, but they also spend a lot of time faking the blitz from one area and bringing it from another. All this movement did hurt them occasionally when they weren't lined up properly at the snap of the ball, but that's the price they're willing to pay for trying to disguise their actual play-call. The Patriots looked like a better team when they went to the hurry-up offense because the Chargers were unable to do all their movement.

Like the Patriots, the Chargers believe in being very aggressive on 3rd downs. They sometimes move their secondary up for press coverage and send the blitz, while playing man-to-man in coverage. The corners also tried to be physical with the Patriots receivers by knocking them off their routes at the snap of the ball. Overall, it looked like the Chargers do play a lot of zone in coverage, but they aren't afraid to expose their secondary in man-to-man situations while trying to bring pressure in the pass rush.

San Diego was not shy about moving their defensive line, too. Instead of always lining up on top of the center and on top of the tackles, they would move into the gaps. Occasionally they did this to one side while bringing the blitz from the other side, trying to make the offensive line choose who and where they would slide the protection. They also did a lot of slanting with their defensive ends, something a Parcells 3-4 never does.

The Chargers try to overload a side of the line with their blitzes. They send their safety into the pass rush on occasion, and like to bring a linebacker with him into the same area on the offensive line. They are also extremely quick around the edges with their OLB's. They do ask the OLB's to get into coverage on occasion, and from what I saw they were not very good at it. But the ILB's were very good about covering underneath, once again closer to the line of scrimmage than the Dallas ILB's, and they also ran with the TE pretty well, something Bradie James can't do. Now, the Patriots TE's are very good and they were able to exploit the coverage by the LB's on occasion, but seemed to find a lot of that success on the outside.

[snip]

San Diego is a very different beast. They believe in confusion and overloading blitzes to cause havoc with the opposing QB. They are a much more aggressive scheme and are very physical with the offense, including the wide receivers. They depend on their front seven to be playmakers because they risk a lot with their blitzes. When they don't get pressure on a play though, they can be in trouble with a suspect secondary.

When I watched that game in review, I remember coming away with these basic thoughts:

*    They aren't the most blitz-happy team that I've seen; it wasn't like every play was a bring-the-house blitz. But they sent odd combinations of people from different areas, giving the offenses unfamiliar choices about who to block during a play. It wasn't the number of people they sent, but the different angles the pressure came from.
*    They wanted to be physical with receivers. They wanted to play some bump-and-run to knock the receivers off their stride.
*    Parcells always preached about wasted energy in between plays, he hated to do things that would cause his players to expend excess energy between snaps. The San Diego defense was constantly in motion, guys were moving everywhere pre-snap.